The Detroit Lions put on a show to close out their wild 2021 season. A win over the Green Bay Packers, no matter how “meaningless” is always a pleasure to watch, even if the Packers were playing most of their backups in the final two quarters.
But when you really think about it, weren’t the Lions out there playing a bunch of backups, too? The talent level on the Lions’ team was already low, but injuries had decimated the roster, leaving the Lions with a bunch of scrappy guys who may have just earned themselves jobs going forward.
In their 37-30 win over the Packers, the Lions continued to exhibit serious progression on offense, and even a couple playmakers emerged on defense. But, in my opinion, the real star of the show was the coaching staff.
Here are my Week 18 grades for the Lions.
Jared Goff wasn’t electric in this game or anything. He only completed a single pass beyond 15 yards from the line of scrimmage. However, this game looked nothing like the Jared Goff who struggled earlier in the season for a couple of reasons.
First, Goff still pushed the ball down the field. He completed seven passed between 10-15 yards, as you can tell he trusts his receivers more.
But perhaps most importantly, Goff has done a really good job avoiding the negative plays down the final stretch. He is throwing the ball away when nothing is there. He’s not putting the ball in harm’s way. And on a day in which his offensive line wasn’t at its best, he took just a single sack.
And when he was on, he was on. He was especially good on Detroit’s third offensive possession, where he completed 5-of-6 passes for 54 yards and a touchdown.
Running backs: C+
Again, this unit wasn’t helped much by a patchwork offensive line, leading to a disappointing rushing performance against a bad Packers run defense. However, it’s hard to blame the tailbacks much. As pointed out by PFF, 37 of Jamaal Williams’ 43 rushing yards came after contact, while D’Andre Swift had a nice, instinctive touchdown run that gave the Lions the lead for good late in the game.
Tight ends: B-
It was mostly just Brock Wright out there, and while he still has a long ways to go as a blocker, a 36-yard touchdown catch and an important 15-yard pickup on a third down late in the game will, alone, bump this unit’s grade above an average grade.
Wide receivers: A
I don’t know what else can be said about Amon-Ra St. Brown at this point. Everyone in the building knows this kid is going to be fed the ball all game, and no one has been able to stop him in a month-and-a-half. He’s such a focus of other teams that now the Lions are starting to build trick plays around him as a decoy.
St. Brown has now produced back-to-back 100-yard games, while Kalif Raymond also surpassed the 100-yard mark for the second time this year.
Oh, and Tom Kennedy threw a damn dime on a trick play. Kudos all around to this unit, who undoubtedly got better as the season went on.
Offensive line: D+
Matt Nelson struggled replacing Penei Sewell at right tackle, but he didn’t struggle as much as Ryan McCollum, who had to come in after Evan Brown was injured midgame. McCollum struggled so much that Detroit eventually benched him to slide Jonah Jackson—who had never taken an NFL regular season snap at center—over.
To be fair, Jackson fared pretty well and so did Tommy Kraemer, who took over at left guard.
But, overall, the protection was bad, the run blocking was bad. You can excuse a performance like this, though, given how beat up the line was.
Defensive line: C
Early in the game, Aaron Rodgers had far too long to throw the ball, and the Packers pretty much had their way on the ground all game. But with the help of some scheming from Aaron Glenn, the unit picked things up in the middle of the game. Julian Okwara, specifically, stuck out as a decent pass rusher in this game. Not only did he tally two sacks, but he also provided a pressure that forced Jordan Love’s game-sealing interception.
Also, Alim McNeill deserves a shoutout for what I believe was potentially his best game of the season. On the stat sheet, he had just three tackles, but he was also mixing it up as a pass rusher and nearly tracked down Josiah Deguara on his long TD run.
It was a pretty quiet day from this unit, which could be viewed as a good or bad thing. Derrick Barnes was exposed in coverage, although the touchdown he gave up was simply a bad matchup, and he was actually in pretty good position, all things considered. It took a perfect pass to beat him and Rodgers delivered.
This unit could use a pretty big overhaul in Year 2.
It was a very up-and-down day for the Lions secondary. Early on, they kept the Lions in the ballgame when pressure was lacking. Ifeatu Melifonwu had a beautiful pass breakup covering Davante Adams. Will Harris continues to show improvement at the cornerback position, even if he did get lost on the touchdown pass to Allen Lazard. Tracy Walker, despite missing the tackle on Deguara’s 62-yard touchdown, was a tackling machine the rest of the way.
But it was a little disheartening seeing Detroit’s secondary get picked apart a bit by second and third-string receivers with Love at quarterback.
However, it’s hard to be too critical here, as two late interceptions from this unit sealed the game.
Special teams: D
A botched fake punt and a partially-blocked punt highlight a pretty quiet day from the secondary. That said, kudos to Riley Patterson for getting back on track with easy makes from 27, 34 and 36 yards.
I don’t know how you could expect much more of a performance out of this coaching staff. The Lions took it to the Packers with and without their starters in the game. You couldn’t have designed or executed the two trick plays on offense any better. The fake punt was likely the only questionable decision on the day, as the Packers were clearly ready for it.
Meanwhile, Glenn made some nice second-half adjustments to generate pressure on the inexperienced, young quarterback that led to key mistakes.